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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Air Force Academy Faces Heat Over Religion; Samuel L. Jackson's Rocky Road to Stardom
Aired May 25, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us.
America's military men and women putting their lives on the line for God and country. But, tonight, at one military school, there are serious allegations of religious fervor completely out of control.
ZAHN (voice-over): A new investigation at the Air Force Academy, cadets who claim they've been persecuted.
CURTIS WEINSTEIN, AIR FORCE ACADEMY CADET: He's like, aren't you Jewish? I'm like, yes, I am. And it was like in the middle of a game or something. And he's like, how do you feel that you killed Jesus?
ZAHN: A chaplain complains about too much religion.
CAPT. MELINDA MORTON, U.S. AIR FORCE: I'm extremely sad for the academy. It is a tragedy.
ZAHN: Tonight, Christianity and the corps of cadets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: A week from today, 1,000 cadets will graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Those men and women will go on to careers flying fighter jets, bombers and mining America's nuclear missiles.
As the cadets get ready to graduate, two investigations are under way into reports of religious intolerance at the school, in particular, whether Christian evangelical chaplains have broken the rules by encouraging Christian cadets to try to convert their peers.
Sean Callebs has that story.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cadets march in step, governed by their honor code: "I will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate anyone among us who does."
But this issue lies outside the honor code. Longstanding allegations of religious intolerance Have surfaced, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. MIKEY WEINSTEIN, AIR FORCE ACADEMY GRADUATE: They're just terrified to come forward. They're Absolutely afraid that their careers will be ruined. They have spouses. They have children.
KRISTEN LESLIE, YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL: One individual said to me, you can't say who I am. My job is at stake.
CALLEBS: One who is speaking out, Captain Melinda Morton. After serving as a missile launch officer, she became a chaplain late in her career.
MORTON: I had no less than three of my fellow chaplains come to me and ask me how in the world I thought I could -- I would consider myself to be a Christian if I didn't believe that we ought be hoping and praying that everyone at the Air Force Academy would be Christian.
CALLEBS: After two-and-a-half years at the academy, Morton, a Protestant chaplain, is making her concerns public.
(on camera): One of your colleagues told us, evangelicals can't check their religion at the door. Should the academy force them to check their religion at the door, to separate church and state?
MORTON: To associate your power and position with a religious agenda in the military is inappropriate. And it is against regulations.
CALLEBS: But it happens at the Air Force Academy.
MORTON: Yes, it does.
CALLEBS (voice-over): And she says that her tour at the academy has been cut short and that it is retaliation for speaking out. The academy says that's not the case, that Morton's deployment is a normal rotation. Since the summer of 2001, the academy has so far received 55 complaints about religious intolerance.
(on camera): Has anybody been punished at the academy for religious intolerance?
COL. DEBRA GRAY, AIR FORCE ACADEMY VICE COMMANDANT: It depends on how you define punished. I know of some people who have been counseled for various things.
M. WEINSTEIN: My hope is the academy will come to the realization that...
CALLEBS (voice-over): Mikey Weinstein, himself a member of a prominent academy family, became involved in this last summer. Curtis Weinstein, then a first-year cadet, made a sobering confession to his father.
M. WEINSTEIN: Curtis told me that he was going to be getting into trouble. And I said, what are you talking about, son? And he said, the next person that calls me a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Jew or accuses me of killing Jesus, I'm going beat the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. And if I get court-martialed or whatever happens, you have to know that's what is going to happen.
C. WEINSTEIN: I didn't even really know the cadet. And he's like, aren't you Jewish? I'm like, yes, I am. And it was like in the middle of a game or something. And he's like, how you to feel that you killed Jesus?
M. WEINSTEIN: And I asked him how many times that this had happened. It had happened on a large number of occasions in diverse locations at the academy with a diverse number of cadets. At that point, he started to clam up. He wouldn't tell me anymore, because knew what I was going to -- he didn't want to turn me into a thermonuclear warhead.
Conference call in the morning and then we can do the meeting.
CALLEBS: But Mikey Weinstein did explode, this from a man who himself went through the riggers of the academy.
M. WEINSTEIN: Well, this is my JAG badge. I was a JAG in the Air Force.
CALLEBS: Who served in the military's judicial system and comes from a family of military leaders. He took his concerns directly to senior officers.
M. WEINSTEIN: If this was happening to Curtis, God knows what else was happening to everybody else that was going on.
CALLEBS: Weinstein eventually went to the media. The academy was still recovering from a sexual assault scandal that had been exposed a few years earlier. And the Air Force had brought in new leaders, including Lieutenant General John Rosa as superintendent and Colonel Debra Gray to change the atmosphere.
Then, last July, about the same time that Curtis Weinstein was speaking to his father, Colonel Gray invited members of the Yale Divinity School to help the chaplains improve their work with cadets on the issues connected with sexual assault, nothing about religious tolerance. Professor Kristen Leslie led the group. They attended a basic cadet training. This is where the molding of young cadets begins, where they're broken down and built back to become officers.
LESLIE: If someone comes up to them with more authority, even an older cadet, and says to them, we want you to be a Christian, get out of my face is not one of the appropriate responses.
CALLEBS: While observing that indoctrination process, the Yale team officially reported that it saw an academy chaplain deliver what they describe as a fire-and-brimstone sermon to a group of more than 600 cadets.
LESLIE: The chaplain who was there in the midst of the sermon extorted his cadets that they needed to go back to their bunks and bear witness, to proselytize, to bring their bunk mates to become Christians and, if they didn't, and, in fact, that there would be consequences for them. I was struck at how bold the evangelical conservative message was in that environment.
CALLEBS: The Yale Divinity group reported that openly urging cadets to try to convert their peers was not good pastoral care and created a place of hostility for the cadets.
GRAY: I was around basic training an awful lot. And I never saw such a sermon as this. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. Obviously, they observed something. I would say that that is -- each religion has a different format and a different structure to what they do. And if that's the type of service it was and it was voluntary that people participate in that, then that's what they do.
CALLEBS: The critics and the academy agree there have been a significant number of problems involving religious intolerance. The question is, are these system-wide?
GRAY: To me, when I hear systemic, I here leadership condones.
CALLEBS (on camera): Not system-wide?
GRAY: Exactly. And so what I try to say is, one, we don't condone it. And we're doing everything we can to educate and train and hold people accountable, which is kind of the circle that leaders go through. But then, when we talk systemic, does it happen a little bit everywhere? Maybe. I mean, we're a big organization.
CALLEBS (voice-over): Academy chaplains say more than nine out of 10 cadets here describe themselves as Christian. And about a third of those are evangelical. So, they represent a sizable portion of the cadet corps.
Chaplain Phil Guyn knows many of the evangelicals on campus and says that understand the mission of the academy.
PHIL GUYN, AIR FORCE ACADEMY CHAPLAIN: The institution of the United States Air Force Academy is not about faith sharing. This institution is dedicated to equipping young men and women to be officers and leaders of character in the United States of America and in our nation's military.
CALLEBS: Even lunch at the academy is an military exercise involving 4,000 cadets. Melinda Morton says, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how hard it is to resist religious pressure when it comes from senior leaders.
MORTON: If the message is, they got where they got because of their evangelical faith, and they have a lot of brothers, brothers, in the Air Force going to help them out because of their evangelical faith, boy, that's something you might think about. If you're investing all you're investing here to get through the Air Force Academy, maybe that's something you ought to think about, too.
Can chaplains proselytize?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CALLEBS: Last month in response to complaints:
MORTON: Actually, chaplains may not proselytize. Chaplains may not proselytize.
CALLEBS: The academy launched a system-wide program to teach cadets and staff about respect. The first of what they say will be many steps to deal with problems.
Melinda Morton helped draft the program and it will be one of her last responsibilities before her new deployment.
MORTON: I am extremely sad for my Air Force. I am extremely sad for the academy. I am -- I am beyond disheartened. It is a tragedy. These young people will be in harm's way very, very soon. And we can't provide them an example in which they can live and learn and worship? That's very sad.
ZAHN: That was Sean Callebs reporting.
The Department of Defense inspector general has just begun an investigation of Chaplain Morton's claim of retaliation.
And, earlier today, I spoke with her and she told me that even though the Air Force says her transfer is a so-called routine rotation, she is still convinced that it is in retaliation for her public statements. The Pentagon tells us the report from its other investigations looking into charges of religious intolerance at the academy will be released soon. And we will update you on those reports when they are released.
We are watching a developing story out of Iraq, where the U.S. military has launched a new offensive. We'll have an update for you in just a moment.
Also ahead, he recovered from a broken neck in just six weeks. Stay with us for a survivor story that even his doctors call a miracle.
ZAHN: And we're moving up on just about 15 minutes past the hour. Time to get you caught up on the latest news.
And we start tonight in Iraq. American forces are on the move again. Today, 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops launched an offensive against insurgents near the Syrian border. That's where foreign fighters are believed to be coming into Iraq.
The latest now from senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): U.S. commanders describe Operation New Market as a routine mission designed to disrupt and interdict insurgent activity. The military says some 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops have so far killed at least 10 suspected militants, including a Muslim cleric who was allegedly firing an automatic weapon.
It's the second such operation conducted by U.S. troops this month in western Iraq. This time focused on the Euphrates River city of Hadithah, where it's believed insurgents fled after an earlier Marine operation, dubbed Matador, drove them from the border region with Syria.
COL. STEVEN DAVIS, U.S. MARINES: This particular area has been subject to a very fierce intimidation campaign of the citizens, as well as the folks that are starting to target the military and the infrastructure installations.
MCINTYRE: Some images from the battle, a U.S. Marine writes an identification number on the forehead of an Iraqi man detained during a search. An Iraqi accused of having too much ammunition for his weapon faces the wall blindfolded while his mother and sisters plead for his release. And a U.S. marine searches through a desk drawer at a Hadithah school. U.S. commanders say most Iraqis in Hadithah want the insurgents out.
DAVIS: And we get a number of tips on our hot lines and via the radio broadcasts, things like that, that are helping us remove the insurgents from the population base.
ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre now joins us from the Pentagon. Do we have any sense of just how effective these strikes are, Jamie?
MCINTYRE: Well, it is hard to say.
The Pentagon -- each new operation has a new name and a new claim of success. It is clear that, over time, they have some effect. They've rounded up hundreds of suspects, although some of them are eventually let go. But until you see a drop-off in the number after attacks and the severity of those attacks, it is going to be hard to say that that effect is measurable.
ZAHN: Want to change the subject to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This is the guy that a lot of people consider sort of number two, next to Osama bin Laden in terms of his ability to create a reign on terror.
One Web site reporting that he had been severely wounded. What is the Pentagon saying about his status tonight?
MCINTYRE: Well, they were very skeptical about it yesterday, when the report first surfaced. But more reports have come out in the last day or so, including one that claims he's actually fled the country with two doctors attending him. That says he got a gunshot wound to the right lung.
Some people in the military say they now think this report could be true. But they don't have any hard evidence to confirm it. Others have suggested that it is disinformation that seems to be coming from a Zarqawi rival who is anxious to replace him. The bottom line is, the military doesn't know. They hope the reports are true.
ZAHN: When this guy was healthy, just how dangerous was he?
MCINTYRE: Well, he's very dangerous, in the sense that he is the brains and the inspiration behind a lot of what the U.S. sees as particularly the suicide bombers who are thought to be mostly foreign fighters from outside Iraq. But nobody is under the illusion that, if Zarqawi dies, that the insurgency is going to go away.
Somebody will take his place, although probably not somebody with the same name recognition and notoriety that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has.
ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much for the update from the Pentagon tonight.
Just about 18 minutes past the hour. Erica Hill at Headline News joins us now to update the other top stories.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. We're actually going to begin next door to Iraq, in Iran, where Iranians took to the streets today for pro-nuclear demonstrations, their anger aimed mainly at Israel and the U.S., because Iran is under pressure to limit its atomic development. But the Iranians tell Britain, France and Germany they're willing to continue talks about the scope of their nuclear program.
The president wins one battle on Capitol Hill today, as another rages on. The Senate approved Texas Judge Priscilla Owen today for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after four years of resistance from Democrats. Meantime,, John Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador took some hits during debate on the Senate floor. One key Republican, Ohio's George Voinovich, called Bolton -- quote -- "a lousy leader." Still, Bolton is expected to get Senate approval.
And the Miami Heat's Shaquille O'Neal can sure hit the boards. It turns out, though, he's also getting the keyboard. The 7-foot center is now a deputy marshal for a Justice Department task force that tracks sexual predators on the Internet. He was sworn in before last weekend's Miami-Washington playoffs.
Shaq as an undercover cop, how about that?
ZAHN: It works.
ZAHN: Thanks for the headlines, Erica. Thanks. See you again in just about a half-hour now from now.
Time for you to vote for the person of the day, the mother of brand new and very rare identical quadruplets, Shelley Breedlove, judicial nominee Priscilla Owen for finally having the Senate vote on her nomination, after a brutal battle over her filibuster -- or the filibuster -- or Danny Porter, the DA in Georgia who is charging runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks.
Cast your vote at CNN.com/Paula. I'll let you know who wins a little bit later on in the hour.
Coming up next, an Oscar-nominated actor who has not only survived Hollywood, but also his own demons and his battle with drugs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: I had numerous opportunities to die. And it didn't happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Just ahead, Jackson's path to stardom, a path that led him through the wilderness of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
ZAHN: Today, Samuel L. Jackson is starring in the most popular movie in the world. I'm talking about "Star Wars: Episode III," of course, which brought in more than $300 million globally in its first weekend of release.
But it wasn't so long ago that Jackson was scraping for bit roles in movies and fighting a losing battle with drugs. How he survived that battle and made it on to Hollywood's A list is a subject of tonight's "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" profile.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "PULP FICTION")
JACKSON: And that's where we are going to be. We're going to be cool.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN (voice-over): Hands down, he's one of the coolest actors in Hollywood.
KENNY LEON, FRIEND: If you look in the dictionary under cool, I think you'll see a picture of Sam Jackson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "PULP FICTION")
JACKSON: I'm "Superfly TNT." I'm "The Guns of the Navarone."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEAH ROZEN, FILM CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: We like Sam Jackson because he's a really terrific actor, because he's really versatile, and because he is uber cool. ZAHN: "Pulp Fiction" to "Jungle Fever" Jackson has a staggering 70 plus movie credits under his belt and films have grossed more than $6 billion. His movie roles have made him a pop culture icon.
ZAHN (on camera): What is a Samuel L. Jackson role?
JACKSON: I see a guy who can't be pigeonholed, who is capable of doing a wide variety of things.
ZAHN (voice-over): He's intense, intelligent, and so oh, so smooth, but Samuel L. Jackson's road to stardom has been a long one.
JACKSON: I had numerous opportunities to die and it didn't happen.
ZAHN: A journey through alcohol, drugs a diction and recovery.
LEON: I admire him for everything he's gone through personally and how up front and honest he's been about his discovery, about the beauty of life.
ZAHN: Samuel Leroy Jackson was born in Washington D.C. on December 21st, 1948. His father left the family early on, causing Jackson and his mother to move in with her parents on Lookout Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
JACKSON: I grew up in a neighborhood that my grandparents had lived in forever; all the families knew each other. So I was very well supported in that segregated society.
DR. CLARK WHITE, FRIEND: Sam was a person, when we were growing up, who would push the envelope. If it was a swimming contest; he may swim the Tennessee River.
ZAHN: Though life in the neighborhood seemed blissful, Jackson learned about racism at an early age. What was the first time you felt discrimination for being black?
JACKSON: Oh, that happened early on in life. There were white kids that passed through our neighborhoods and they would yell thing at us, or when we were going to school, we were on the bus and we were walking. There would be a loud choruses of nigger, nigger coming out of the bus.
ZAHN (on camera): Wouldn't that make you angry?
JACKSON: There was no need to be angry because to show anger meant that I mean I might be killed.
ZAHN (voice-over): Jackson graduated Riverside High School in 1967 and enrolled in the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta. Though he had performed in plays growing up, he had no plans to study acting. But a chance visit to the performing art center at nearby Spellman College caused Jackson to rethink his future. WHITE: They were having a rehearsal for a play and all of the women that were at the rehearsal had on camisoles and garter belts and stockings and that's when he discovered that he may have potential for being an actor.
ZAHN: Jackson also found another incentive at the all-female college -- theater major La Tanya Richardson, the two later married in 1980. In 1969, at the height of the civil rights struggle, Jackson became active in the black power movement.
JACKSON: I had my big old afro and my fists around my neck, and I was, you know, reading all these books and talking to people like Stopey Carmichael and Rat Brown.
ZAHN: That year Jackson took a stand that nearly ended his days at Morehouse.
WHITE: Sam Jackson was a part of a group of students who decided that direct action in terms of locking up the board of trustees at Morehouse College may in fact move us closer at Morehouse College to having a black studies program.
ZAHN: One of those trustee members in the nearly two day lock down was Martin Luther King Sr. Jackson was suspended but later returned, graduating in 1972. Soon after, the future king of cool made his television debut, hocking hamburgers for Crystal. It was during this time Jackson first began experimenting with drugs.
JACKSON: My first acting professor, bless his soul, Dr. Baldwin Barrows, when I told him I was going to be an actor, and there was like a group of us. He said if you're going to do it, you have to learn to do it like all the great ones. We would drink with him in the mornings and smoke marijuana.
ZAHN: So it was encouraged?
JACKSON: Yes, it was just part of what you do.
ZAHN: In 1976, Jackson headed to New York, joining a famed theater company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, a Negro ensemble company was the home for many artists that we know today, you know, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Art Williams, Denzel Washington, it was the place where African Americans to perform.
ZAHN: He appeared in several productions, including "A Soldier's Story," but admits he was under the influence during some of his performances.
JACKSON: Things were drilled into us, like you know, down stage left, down stage right, up stage, down stage, counter crosses, being able to be in a dominant position, being in a submissive position, being able to know your lines, even in the midst of a fog, everybody's lines, not just yours.
ZAHN (on camera): How could do you that toasted?
JACKSON: I have no idea. I have no conception of how that worked but we did. I like getting high.
ZAHN (voice-over): When our story continues, Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of an addict, both on and off screen.
JACKSON: I started doing speed, so I was the guy who was up all the time. Plus, I liked doing acid. I loved acid at the time.
ZAHN: And we're back talking about Samuel L. Jackson. Speed, acid, cocaine, 20-years-ago those were Jackson's drugs of choice. He would have to hit rock bottom before his Hollywood career could ever begin to take off. Here is more of tonight's "People in the News" profile.
ZAHN (voice over): In the late '80s, 40-year-old Samuel L. Jackson was working steadily as a stage actor in New York. However, his substance abuse was holding him back from starring roles on Broadway and in Hollywood.
JACKSON: When I went to auditions, I was very good in the audition, my eyes were a little too red or maybe I did smell like that beer that I had before I went to the audition, or maybe I wasn't as kempt as I thought I was in my mind.
ZAHN: From beer to marijuana, from tequila to cocaine, as time went by, Jackson's substance abuse escalated.
JACKSON: I had deviated my septum, snorting cocaine, so I realized OK, I can't snort cocaine anymore but I can smoke it, so I started smoking it, and that's like a quick, quick slide downhill.
Anybody move I'll blow your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head off.
ZAHN: Jackson had found some success on the silver screen, acting in bit roles in movies like "Coming to America."
JACKSON: Who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is this (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?
ZAHN: But in 19990, Jackson hit rock bottom at a bachelor party in New York.
JACKSON: We drank a lot of tequila at that party and I said to myself I got to get some cocaine so I can level out. I got in the cab, I don't remember going and buying the cocaine, I don't remember going home and cooking it. But when I did wake up, that was the time when there was the cooked cocaine on the table, and I passed out on the floor. And you know she didn't berate me or anything else she said you're going to rehab and I said OK.
ZAHN: You didn't fight rehab?
JACKSON: No, I was tired.
ZAHN: You were ready?
JACKSON: I was real, real, real tired of doing what I'd been doing.
ZAHN: A rehab clinic in upstate New York followed, along with the hopes of getting clean. While in the clinic, Jackson got an offer from director Spike Lee whom he worked with several times before. But this time, the role mirrored Jackson's personal fight, a crack junkie in "Jungle Fever."
JACKSON: I like getting high. Why do you think I got room here at the Taj Mahal?
The counselors were telling me they didn't want me to do it, it wasn't' the right thing to do. You know you're handling lighters and pipes and you will right back here in two weeks. I said if for not other reason I'm not going to get high again it's because I never want to see you again.
I really hate to resort to having to knocking elderly people in the head for their money.
ZAHN: Checking out of rehab her arrived on Spike Lee's set. The performance was nothing short of remarkable.
JACKSON: I doing it, you know, I do it I like getting' high.
ROZEN: He was alternately charming and funny and the scariest things you had ever seen.
ZAHN: And on May 20, 1991, a canned film festival created an unprecedented best supporting actor award for Samuel L. Jackson's work. Isn't there a certain irony you're in the late stages of rehab when Spike Lee is talking to you about playing a severely addicted coke fiend.
JACKSON: Yes, well, I mean, god puts things in your way at the right time. You know, I had numerous opportunities to die, and it didn't happen.
ZAHN: After 20 years of acting, Hollywood had finally discovered Samuel L. Jackson.
JACKSON: My whole life changed, and --
ZAHN: How did you it changed, what changed?
JACKSON: What changed? Hollywood called. All those years I've been waiting on Hollywood to call; Hollywood finally calls when I get clean. ZAHN: And Jackson answered the call. He appeared in nearly 20 movies over the next three years.
JACKSON: What country are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
JACKSON: What ain't no country I ever heard of. They speak English in what?
ZAHN: But it would be his role as super cool hit man Jules Winfield in 1994's pulp fiction that would put Jackson on Hollywood's "a" list and it also earned him his first Oscar nomination.
JACKSON: Say what again. I double dare you (EXPLETIVE DELETED), say what one more time.
LEON: I think if you take Sam Jackson out of that movie it's not a movie. "Pulp Fiction was" was when I said OK, the world has to reckon with this guy.
ZAHN: Jackson's performance also earned him the nickname, the king of cool, from both his on and off screen personality and unmatched fashion sense. And more importantly, he's maintained his sobriety since leaving rehab.
JACKSON: I say the same prayer that I learned the first day I went into rehab. God, grant me the strength not to drink and drug today. I roll out of bed every morning and I say that.
ZAHN: But Samuel L. Jackson still has some vices. Let's talk about your latest obsession, golf. How addicted are you to it?
JACKSON: I love playing golf. I play it every day when I'm not working, and I have a clause in my contract that says I have to play twice a week when I'm working. They have to find a golf course for me to play and pay for it.
LEON: He's very competitive. He makes much more money than I make, but you know, when you're playing golf with him, it's pay up, you know? Leon, you owe me $1.
ZAHN: And Jackson isn't finished yet. He is appearing in four movies over the next year.
CARTER: If Samuel L. Jackson isn't the hardest working actor in Hollywood I would like to know he who is.
JACKSON: When people come up to me on the street they always say, "I really love your work." And that's more important than people say, "I just love you." Because it means they are paying attention to what I'm doing and how I do it. And that's the best compliment in the world I could get.
ZAHN: Yeah, we're paying attention to you all right. Samuel L. Jackson.
Coming up, a teenagers incredible story. Surviving what's called an internal decapitation. He not only lived, he's actually recovering.
ZAHN: Chances are if I told you that a boy whose head disconnected from his spine, not only survived, but is actually walking again, you probably wouldn't believe it. But the story is true and we're focusing on survivor stories all week. And this one is truly amazing.
Thelma Gutierrez has his story.
FATHER: He was in a coma. We weren't sure of brain activity. I'm going to lose my son.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a horrific accident that left a 13-year-old boy internally decapitated.
DR. KIM MANWARING, NEUROSURGEON: An internal decapitation is to tear all of the connections that hold the head to the spine.
GUTIERREZ: It was an injury that is almost always fatal. But not for Ricky Barker. Ricky was riding his bike home from a friend's house when he was struck by a car traveling 50 miles an hour. Ricky was thrown 30 feet. His head and neck slammed into a curb. Ricky was on the brink of death.
FATHER: I said a prayer that God would raise my son back up.
GUTIERREZ: Ricky could not breathe on his own. He couldn't talk. He was paralyzed from the neck down. It was a long shot, but doctors decided to take a chance and operate. As his family prepared to say good-bye, a team led by Dr. Kim Manwaring worked on the worst neck injury they had ever seen. They placed titanium rods and bolts in Ricky's neck to attach his skull to his spine. Just 36 hours after surgery, an amazing development.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wiggle your toes.
GUTIERREZ: Ricky began to move his right leg. A week and a half later, he moved his left. Then he went from blinking to communicate to writing. Then he began to speak.
RICKY BARKER, ACCIDENT SURVIVOR: It took me a couple of minutes to figure it out. Then I'm like, wait a minute, I can talk.
GUTIERREZ (on camera): How exciting was that?
BARKER: And I started yelling at the nurse. It was pretty exciting. GUTIERREZ (voice-over): It was a dramatic six week recovery that no one expected. What has this whole experience taught you about life?
BARKER: That you only have one.
BARKER: There is a god.
GUTIERREZ: Ricky had one special request for his doctors.
MANWARING: From the first moment he talked, he said please help me get to my graduation.
GUTIERREZ: His wish was granted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?
GUTIERREZ: The paramedics who saved Ricky picked him up at the hospital. And they chauffeured Ricky in an ambulance to his eighth grade graduation. It was his moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations, Richard.
GUTIERREZ: In front of all of his friends, Ricky graduated with his class.
MOM: All that kept running through my head is hearing the doctors say six weeks ago that my son was going to die and here we are.
GUTIERREZ: A year ago that was Ricky, the eighth grader. Today this is Ricky the high school freshman. Ricky says he still has a tough time dealing with his injuries.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Step three, does this guy have horns or no horns.
GUTIERREZ: But says he'll never forget the day doctors told him he had survived an internal decapitation.
BARKER: At first when they started explaining that to me, I had no idea what they were talking about. And then it hit me, decapitated is head cut off. Internal is inside. So head cut off inside. OK.
GUTIERREZ: Ricky Barker, the boy who was never supposed to walk again is now able to climb up stairs, walk downstairs, walk backwards, and, yes, even run.
(on camera): A year ago you referred to this a miracle. Doctors don't use that term.
MANWARING: Well, when I've had this experience, I can get comfortable with it.
GUTIERREZ: And call it a miracle?
MANWARING: Yes. Ricky looks truly miraculous. I really am proud of you, Ricky.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Ricky believes it was the people who first found him who saved his life.
BARKER: They gave me back my very own existence. Had someone moved me, touched me in some way, then I might not be here talking to you right now. I might be somewhere six feet under or in an urn somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You feel this?
GUTIERREZ: Ricky still cannot use his left arm.
BARKER: I think, OK, I'm here, I'm alive. I'm happy with that. Anything more would be a gift, basically.
GUTIERREZ: He says hopes to work with other people who suffered spinal cord injuries.
BARKER: I would say don't give up. Continue. Take these moments of sadness and anger and turn them into motivation and willpower -- to continue on.
ZAHN: Ricky, we can all learn from the example you're setting. Thelma Gutierrez reporting for us tonight.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is joining us at the top of the hour. And he's going to have huge numbers, massive audience watching because no one's going to watch the second hour of "American Idol," tonight are they, the finals. Because they didn't care about the first hour tonight, did they?
LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: I don't even care who's in it.
ZAHN: Good. Neither do to I. So, who's going to be joining you tonight?
KING: We've got a hell of an hour. Jennifer -- Jennifer Finney Boylan will be with us. She's the author of "She's Not There: A life in Two Genders." That's the women -- the man who became a women and is still married to the women he was married to. She'll be on alone. And then the two will be on together. If you can figure that out, join us.
ZAHN: Yes, I'm going to have to stick around for the second explanation on that one, Larry. Have a good show. See you at the top of the hour. Appreciate it.
KING: Bye dear.
ZAHN: You still got time to vote for our "Person of the Day." Your choice is Shelley Breedlove, the mother of brand new and very rare identical quadruplets. Newly confirmed appeals court Judge Priscilla Owen or Georgia D.A. Danny Porter who has filed charges against runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks.
And a little bit later on, a burger ad, where hardly anyone is talking about the burger.
ZAHN: Still ahead, we all know that sex sells, but does a new burger ad featuring Paris Hilton go too far? That, of course, wasn't the ad you were watching. Wait until you see the ad.
First, it's time for another update of the top stories from Erica Hill at Headline News.
HILL: Hi, Paula.
"Ridiculous" was the word from the White House today, a reaction to an Amnesty International report that called President Bush and the U.S. leading violators of human rights. In its annual report, Amnesty International compared the indefinite detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Gulag prisons of the old Soviet Union, and newly released FBI documents from three years ago indicates detainees previously complained about abuse and interrogators' desecration of the Koran, including a flushing of the Koran in the toilet.
The U.S. is spending $200 million every week trying to rebuild Iraq. That figure coming to us from Bill Taylor, the out-going official who oversees contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq. Taylor says work is moving along but attacks by insurgents are slowing the process and taking a share of the $18 billion Congress has appropriated.
The FBI, meantime, is cracking down on a website used to steal "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith." Agents shut down Bit Torn, an internet file sharing operation. It's blamed for 10,000 illegal downloads of the film in just 24 hours.
And the widow of racing legend Dale Earnhardt says she was cheated out of $3.7 million, that from her life insurance policy. Earnhardt died in a 2001 crash, the Daytona 500, shortly after he took out the policy, but the company says Earnhardt never took a required physical. That trial began today in Lexington, North Carolina. And, Paula, that's the latest from Headline News, at this hour. Back to you.
ZAHN: Thanks so much, Erica. Appreciate it.
So, the question is, who did you vote for, for "Person of the Day"? Shelley Breedlove for giving birth to identical quadruplets, Priscilla Owen for having her nomination voted on in the Senate after that long filibuster battle, or the D.A. in Georgia for charging runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks. And, with 62 percent of the vote, the winner is new mom, multiple mom, Shelley Breedlove.
(voice-over): Multiple babies are nothing new in Shelley Breedlove's family. She's an identical twin herself, and now she has four identical daughters of her own. That's right, identical quadruplets.
Breedlove says Daphne, Chloe, Bonnie and Adel aren't the result of fertility drugs. They came naturally.
SHELLEY BREEDLOVE, QUADRUPLET'S MOTHER: I look at all four of them and I just love them so much and I just -- I can't imagine not having them at this point.
ZAHN: The babies were born prematurely. Each needed heart surgery, but now they're doing fine. Two of them will be going home this week to meet their older brother Logan, who is 15 months. Shelley and her husband Eric use homemade ankle bracelets to keep track of who's who.
BREEDLOVE: Bonnie has a butterfly. Chloe has a car.
ZAHN: We've always heard they do things bigger in Texas, apparently, even families. For more than doubling the size of her family in one single day, you've made Shelley Breedlove the "Person of the Day."
ZAHN: We'll be right back.
ZAHN: All right, we're going to be talking now about Paris Hilton, so if you got young children watching with you, this might be a good time to kind of scoot them out of the room. If you have seen Paris' risque new commercial, you know she's done it again and, of course, that means, so have we, the media. Jeanne Moos explains.
JEANNE MOOS, CORRESPONDENT: Once again, Paris is a towering presence. Not that Paris, the one watch washing the car. So far this commercial has run only west of the Rockies. Think the viewers elsewhere might have been deprived if it weren't for us, the media.
BILL HEMMER: ...some say is too hot for TV.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this too hot to handle?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...may be too hot for your kids, this would be a good time to get them out of the room, because...
MOOS: But if you decide to stay behind, prepare to see it for the umpteenth time. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See if you can guess what this ad is selling.
MOOS: Do you know what it is for, the commercial?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sex.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Must be a car then.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lather, soap suds, bubble bath, shoes?
MOOS: Does this make you want to buy a hamburger? Carl's Jr. barbecue burger to be exact. The chain says media interest in the Paris Hilton spot has "exceeded our expectations."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, love it!
MOOS: They say one day's coverage alone accounted for about 500 TV hits, free news coverage, versus a mere 12 to 15 times the spot ran as a paid ad, even as critics lambasted the images.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if Carl's want to have the brand of being launched...
MOOS: The pictures ran right over them in a single show.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it going too far, too much?
MOOS: One for "Good Morning America..."
A spot, or teases for it, ran three times on "Good Morning America," four times on "The Early Show," three times on the first 10 minutes of "The View" -- what a view it was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soft pore corn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soft core porn.
MOOS: Paris, too hot? Not for CNN when she's hot news. The spot provoked a gender gap.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, it is too much. It is too much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I enjoy it? Yes,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's her at her finest, in her beauty and power of her youth. What is not to like?
MOOS: If it's more you would like, Carl's put what even they say is too hot for TV on their website. After all, this is the same chain that gave us the mechanical bull commercial. There is no question who Paris is aiming her hose at.
MOOS: You're who they're after.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I like a more meaty girls, though.
MOOS: Meaty girls?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's the beef?
MOOS: Who needs beef when they're showcasing buns?
In the past two-and-a-half minutes, we've added 13 more glimpses of Paris taking it to the hilt.
ZAHN: All right, we blew it too. Just a little bit of Jeanne Moos and a lot of Paris Hilton. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Tomorrow night, it's happening to hundreds of thousands of people, all over the country -- their most personal information, stolen by thieves in cyberspace. How can you protect yourself from becoming another victim of identity theft? Find out when our panel of experts takes your calls and your emails tomorrow night. Hope you'll join us then.
Thanks for being with us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
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